‘The stroke ter­ri­fied me. I thought I’d die on the plane’

Chris Tar­rant tells Ge­or­gia Humphreys about trav­el­ling on the world’s rail­ways, film­ing in dread­ful con­di­tions ... and com­ing close to death

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - WEEKEND TV -

There’s a Who Wants To Be A Mil­lion­aire? catch­phrase Chris Tar­rant ex­pects to hear every day. “I haven’t been out of my house yet this morn­ing, but I know be­fore teatime some­body will say, ‘Phone a friend, Chris, phone a friend’,” says the 71-year-old.

Af­ter all, Tar­rant spent a mighty 15 years host­ing the ITV quiz, in which con­tes­tants bat­tled through a se­ries of ques­tions to try and win the enor­mous cash prize. Since the show last aired in 2014, though, his ca­reer has gone off on a very dif­fer­ent, well, track.

Ahead of a fourth se­ries of Chris Tar­rant: Ex­treme Rail­way Jour­neys, we hear more about the TV pre­sen­ter’s train trav­els — and his life off-screen, too.

From Buenos Aires to Alaska, Ja­pan to Aus­tralia, Tar­rant has ven­tured thou­sands of miles to film the in­trigu­ing Chan­nel 5 doc­u­men­tary show. What in­spires him to con­tinue mak­ing new episodes?

“I don’t need to work and my fam­ily are all say­ing, ‘Dad, why don’t you just re­tire?’,” he di­vulges. “And I say, ‘No, be­cause I want to do just enough work a year’, you know, to keep my brain work­ing. You need to do some­thing.”

It seems Tar­rant didn’t nec­es­sar­ily an­tic­i­pate its longevity.

“It’s weird, like ev­ery­thing in my life it was never sup­posed to last this long. I was still do­ing Mil­lion­aire and they said, ‘Do you fancy film­ing some rail­ways?, and I said, ‘Yeah, ac­tu­ally. I’ve lived in stu­dios for about 20 years of my life, so it would be nice to get out again’. “And then I sup­pose, it’s just built and built and built. It seems very pop­u­lar.” Read­ing-born Tar­rant, who first found fame in the 1970s host­ing ITV chil­dren’s show Tiswas, wanted to visit lo­ca­tions “closer to home” this time around. But upon ar­riv­ing in Morocco to shoot the first episode, the star and his crew faced pretty ex­treme con­di­tions. “We checked the tem­per­a­ture one day on the car tem­per­a­ture gauge — 54 de­grees,” he ex­claims. “I have never filmed in 54 de­grees in my life.” It was so hot, in fact, that his boot melted. “The heel burnt off, ba­si­cally,” he elab­o­rates. “It was like, ‘Come on Tar­rant, we’ve got a sched­ule’. I went, ‘I know, but I’ve only got one shoe.” Ex­plor­ing Morocco’s vast rail­way net­work sees Tar­rant hop on a freight train on the way to Casablanca, ride a desert train south into the Sa­hara and even help work­ers to clear sand off the tracks. How chal­leng­ing was this par­tic­u­lar jour­ney, con­sid­er­ing the blis­ter­ing heat (aside from footwear is­sues of course)? “We were work­ing quite well. Mike, the cam­era­man, and I were sort of get­ting it done,” Tar­rant re­calls. “But we were just slow; ev­ery­thing was pon­der­ous. “Ev­ery­thing I said, I had to speak very care­fully and think, ‘What am I say­ing next?’”

View­ers will also see Tar­rant roll in and out of fas­ci­nat­ing places, such as Es­to­nia, Is­rael and Jor­dan, em­brac­ing some “re­ally un­comfy” trav­el­ling on lit­tle sleep. Con­sid­er­ing he suf­fered a stroke in 2014, while fly­ing to Heathrow from Bangkok, does he have to tell him­self to slow down some­times?

“I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I kind of have (slowed down)”, main­tains Tar­rant, who was rushed to hospi­tal fol­low­ing the stroke and has since made a full re­cov­ery.

“You know, I’m not an id­iot, I want to live. I was lucky. It (the stroke) was ter­ri­fy­ing. I hon­estly thought I was go­ing to die on that plane. It was the scari­est — eas­ily the scari­est — mo­ment of my life.”

The frank TV per­son­al­ity con­tin­ues: “I don’t work as hard. I worked so hard for so many years, and I thought, ‘What the hell did I do that for?’”

When it comes to Who Wants To Be A Mil­lion­aire?, Tar­rant rules out a re­turn.

“I don’t think you should ever go back,” he de­clares. “I def­i­nitely wouldn’t do it.”

Does he think the show would be too ex­pen­sive to re­make now?

“For loads of peo­ple, Mil­lion­aire ab­so­lutely changed their whole life. It was huge, but you can’t go back and call it, ‘Who Wants To Win 50 Quid?’ You can’t do it. It’s stuck with that ti­tle and I think that’s the prob­lem.”

Tar­rant says he’s “very proud” of his time host­ing the much-loved telly quiz. “I’ve had a great life work­ing, I’ve re­ally en­joyed stuff, but Mil­lion­aire was amaz­ing.” Chris Tar­rant: Ex­treme Rail­way Jour­neys, Chan­nel 5, Mon­day, 9pm

SAND MAN: Chris and work­ers clear­ing a path for the desert train in the swel­ter­ing heat of Morocco

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